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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evaluating competing theoretical perspectives on cooperation: the case study of Asean in the post-cold war era Ayvazian, Elizabeth


The end of the Cold War is bringing about crucial changes in international relations. The Cold War security system has collapsed and the old bipolar international system is crumbling. These changes are now central to political debates in international relations. Scholars have asked whether these new developments would lead to new modes of cooperation or whether they would create new opportunities for conflicts. As far as developed states (core states) are concerned, most scholars agree that they now form a community and have ruled out the use of war in their relations. Hence the growing interest in non-realist, more specifically liberal theories of international relations. Yet for the Third World and the Second World disaggregated (the periphery), the neorealist theory still seems to prevail among scholars: it is indeed usually inferred that the collapse of the Cold War security system and the consequent changes in the distribution of power will increase instability and exacerbate conflicts in the periphery. This thesis presents and evaluates this perspective on the stability of the post-Cold War periphery, as well as its theoretical underpinnings. At its simplest, the neorealists' world is characterized by conflict and the constant possibility of war. Neorealists do acknowledge the likelihood of cooperation in such a conflictual world. Yet they usually hold that, particularly in the security arena, cooperation is unusual, fleeting and temporary. They further argue that cooperation is rare, because states act autonomously and self-help is the rule. Since neorealists hold that states cooperate only to deal with a common threat, they see cooperation, when manifest, as temporary or inconsequential and ultimately explained by conflict. The neorealist perspective on international cooperation thus raises an important theoretical question regarding states’ motivations for cooperating: is a common enemy required for the creation and maintenance of cooperation among states? This thesis examines the hypothesis that cooperation among some peripheral states may be better explained by liberal theory than by neorealism - namely that states will be motivated for cooperating not exclusively because of a common enemy, but because they have reduced their commitment to war as an instrument of policy. The case-study of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations --the current debate on ASEAN security cooperation and its future relevance in the post-Cold War era -- provides evidence to test our hypothesis. Neorealists have pointed out that such sub-regional security cooperation, being the sole product of intraregional stress, will last only as long as there is a common enemy. Thus they hold that today, with the withdrawal of Vietnam from Cambodia, the continued viability of the organization cannot be taken for granted. Unless ASEAN states find a new common enemy, intra-ASEAN security cooperation will be jeopardized. This thesis underlines the limitations of this discourse on the Association. It argues that, while ASEAN has been created and maintained thanks to the common communist enemy, motivations for cooperation have changed. Habits of cooperation and mutual interests in avoiding war, as well as the belief that war is not a viable instrument of policy, have developed: ASEAN in the post-Cold War era will thus seek to strengthen peaceful change rather than gradually collapsing. Such motivations for cooperating are not explained by the neorealist theory, and may be more accountable to liberal theory.This thesis thus contends that the ASEAN case study may provide grounds to water down the pessimistic prospect that neorealists put forward for peripheral states' stability in the post-Cold War era.

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